Film review: The Railway Man (15, 116 min)

Derailed by the ghosts of war

Thursday, 9th January 2014, 8:32 am
The Railway Man. Pictured: Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman
The Railway Man. Pictured: Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman

Ghosts of the past haunt a former British Army officer in Jonathan Teplitzky’s respectful and polished drama.

Based on the bestselling autobiography of Eric Lomax, The Railway Man uses a patchwork of flashbacks to recount the writer’s treatment at the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army after the fall of Singapore.

Director Jonathan Teplitzky doesn’t shy away from the most harrowing episodes of Lomax’s story, including a torture sequence which depicts Japanese officers using water-boarding to extract information from their prisoner.

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Another scene, much closer to home at a Scottish train station, is equally chilling.

While Teplitzky’s picture lands a flurry of punches, it doesn’t quite deliver a knockout blow, even in the final act when Lomax attempts to confront a Japanese officer he holds responsible for the war raging inside his head.

Like the smartly dressed man at the story’s centre, the deepest emotions remain tightly buttoned.

When we first meet train enthusiast Eric (Colin Firth), he is safely ensconced in a first-class carriage, casting nervous glances at the lady sitting opposite.

Eventually he strikes up a conversation with Patricia Wallace (Nicole Kidman) and learns she is visiting the north of England based on recommendations from a friend.

“With all due respect to your friend, if all he’s mentioned is vodka, he’s only scratched the surface of Warrington,” blusters Eric.

He engineers another meeting with Patti further up the line and they fall in love and marry.

It quickly becomes clear to Patti something in Eric’s past is troubling him, but her efforts to help are swatted aside.

She seeks out hisbest friend Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard), hoping he can reveal the source of her spouse’s angst.

He recounts the horrors faced by young Eric (Jeremy Irvine) and fellow soldiers at the Sakamoto Butai camp.

The Railway Man chugs back and forth between 1940s Singapore and 1980 Berwick, which makes Teplitzky’s film feel far more sluggish and laboured that it actually is.

Thankfully, Firth and Kidman are both excellent in emotionally demanding roles.

Direction is measured throughout and the tone suitably sombre, honouring the memory of countless young soldiers who resisted their captors, sometimes with their dying breath.

Drama/War/Romance. Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgard, Hiroyuki Sanada, Jeremy Irvine, Sam Reid, Tanroh Ishida. Director: Jonathan Teplitzky.